The Virtual Production Stage That Is Reinventing How Businesses Communicate
Salesforce brings Hollywood to corporate communications — behind the (virtual) curtain of the xR Stage
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted change in every industry, but few as fundamentally as those dependent on in-person gatherings, such as live events and film production. At a time when it is vital for businesses to establish strong media strategies, current circumstances are throttling live trade show events and filmed content creation.
Virtual production spaces like Salesforce’s partnership with an Extended Reality Stage in Marin, California, stand to change that.
What if instead of trying to get crews and presenters to a speciﬁc location, creators could bring locations to them? This is exactly what Salesforce did for a recent 40-day ﬁlm production for their annual 2020 Dreamforce event.
“We set up a shot on top of a mountain in the Alps, but we were actually in Marin, California,” said Clayton Talmon, executive producer, ﬁlm director at Salesforce. “The executive could drive over from her home across the bay and be placed in the Alps.”
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Through the xR Stage, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, brands can continue to produce high-quality marketing and communications content “set” anywhere in the world — with higher degrees of COVID-19 safety, convenience and creative control.
Virtual production is a set of combined practices from film/TV, 3D and gaming technology that allows creators to merge physical and computer-generated content on set. It garnered public attention through its adoption by director Jon Favreau in 2019’s “The Lion King” and “The Mandalorian,” of which 50% of its first season was filmed using virtual production.
Inspired by the possibilities of this new methodology, Talmon saw an opportunity to bring these capabilities to business communications and has already found success producing work for many of Salesforce’s customers.
“Salesforce has always been on the leading edge of bringing world-class commercial productions to branded corporate content and executive messaging,” Talmon said. “That’s our big breakthrough here: We’re one of the first ones to [fast-track] it into the business world.”
Though it shares similarities with green screen, virtual production is far more sophisticated. With traditional visual effects, digital content is added to footage in post-production. At an xR Stage, filmmakers see it all together right from the director’s chair, where the camera becomes a window into synthetic worlds displayed on LED screens behind talent. Adding another layer of depth through video game software like Unreal Engine, creators can also display 3D content composited in front of performers, letting them interact with data visualizations, products and virtual characters.
“It bends the brain a bit,” Talmon said. “What is digital looks three-dimensional and you feel like you’re transported to a beach in Hawaii, but you’re on a soundstage.”
Using one physical location for entire shoots also increases safety for clients, cast and crew. Salesforce was able to maintain rigorous COVID-19 testing standards, administering more than 700 tests across 40 days of filming. Crewmembers can be hired locally, minimizing travel. The xR Stage even streamlines the process of shooting remotely for people who aren’t able to leave home.
“COVID is the reason why Clayton and I are not on planes filming around the world,” said Emma Brumpton, senior producer and media development manager at Salesforce. “A lot of our speakers still didn’t feel safe coming onto the stage, so we set up remote production kits, which allowed us to remotely insert them onto the stage.”
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From necessity to opportunity
Uncharted territories bring unexpected challenges. Film, games and technology professionals all use different “languages,” and are not necessarily accustomed to translating them across industries. COVID-19 may have catalyzed the need for the xR Stage, but Talmon also used its initial projects to streamline workflows he believes will prove invaluable post-pandemic due to the unprecedented degree of creative control and efficiencies it gives his teams.
“I can have sunset all day long,” Talmon said. “Oftentimes we’re timing for a 10-minute window of light. In this case, we just park the sun within the 3D set and it stays there all day.”
New learning curves and the need for environments to be generated in advance mean that the xR Stage setups generally require more effort upfront than on-location equivalents. The trade-off is that productions can be optimized for those with the trickiest schedules: C-suite executives and other “A-List” individuals. Whether it’s the CEO who needs to squeeze a live keynote broadcast into a packed day or the celebrity who can shoot five locations without hopping on as many planes — for the right person, virtual production is a groundbreaking time-saver.
“The stage is limitless,” Brumpton said. “That is the most exciting part, to be able to bring a customer on and say, ‘Yes, we can bring you to Shanghai within minutes; yes, we can bring you to London.’”
With many claiming that remote work is “here to stay,” high-quality digital productions are transitioning from luxuries to necessities.
“As creatives, we are always thinking about taking physical events and customer stories and recreating them. COVID-19 has accelerated and amplified our need to make an emotional connection with our customers through rich media that delivers valuable, relevant content during Dreamforce and our World Tour physical events,” Talmon said. “We now need to take that all online.”
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Talmon also imagines a future in which the xR Stage offers value for less conventionally digital-forward verticals, particularly as emerging media technologies like virtual and augmented reality enter the mainstream.
“xR is also future-proofing for industries like education, training, design, health care and eCommerce,” Brumpton said. “The content we’ll capture in the future of the xR Stage will definitely be used within VR/AR, new gamified experiences and in tackling real-world problems.”
For now, Salesforce remains focused on its goal of facilitating trusted, informative communication for its customers and partners around the world.
“At the end of the day, businesses want to communicate with their customer base,” Talmon said. “That one-on-one relationship we used to have when people walked into your store, show room or trade show — is gone for the foreseeable future. The XR technology, used properly, allows you to create high-level production value communications that keep companies connected with their customers. That’s the big picture here: We’re combining these production tools to reinvent the future of how B2B and B2C communication channels are going to be filled with effective content, beyond COVID-19.”
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